Primetime Debate: Government's Foreign Policy Priorities

a week into office Prime Minister Modi is kicked off his foreign policy initiatives his first stop Maldives followed by Sri Lanka even as the foreign minister Jesse Unger visits Bhutan thanks for joining us I'm hot Cheryl my name the question is what are the top foreign policy priorities from Modi 2.0 how does South Asia feature in the scheme of things to discuss this I'm joined by Neelam video of the Gateway house and so has Nia Heather from the Hindu both of you thank you so much for joining us I'll start this condition with you let's begin with South Asia the Modi government is clearly said that South Asia will be the top priority for India now and we saw the leaders of the bim's technicians being invited to Modi's swearing-in ceremony for a benefit of our viewers limbs take stands for being on initiative for multi sectoral technical and economic cooperation it includes India Bangladesh Bhutan Myanmar Nepal Sri Lanka and Thailand neither of the question is is this a clear shift away from Sark and what your mind are the strategic objectives of enhancing relations with the binstock countries so I think the first thing of course is it is a shift away from Sark there has been no summit meeting of Saku the Modi number you know first government there hasn't been any progress after the meeting in Kathmandu in which not even the regional connectivity the road licensing procedures could be got through because Pakistan pulled out at the last minute and the relationship has only grown worse with Pakistan with the Indian government followed by Bangladesh and some of the others refusing to go to Pakistan for a summit so I would say that Sark is put away at least for a while but that unfortunately also excludes Afghanistan it's also important to remember that in the first swearing-in ceremony the then Prime Minister of the government in exile of Tibet had been invited as well as the leader from Mauritius in this swearing-in it was but it was also Kyrgyzstan which is the chair of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization so in a way this government has really hit the ground running on foreign policy objectives because they got in boomstick they made clear that no Sark because of terrorism issues with Pakistan they also of course recruited a technocrat as the External Affairs Minister and they are making their first visits to three neighboring countries there really it's pretty extraordinary how rapidly they have moved sure so one thing is this a diplomatic flaw in a sense to keep Pakistan out all these beams take a serious effort an economic integration in South Asia you know there are a whole series of questions that need to be asked the first one is really that if the Prime Minister called the stock leader the last time is it necessary that he would have called the SARC leaders again I don't know the second thing is really that as ambassador they have pointed out binstock actually Lisa both of Ghana Stan and the Maldives both countries that are important to India if it was a question of just leaving out Pakistan I assume the government would it simply just left out Pakistan you don't have to invite everyone to your swearing-in ceremony you invite those who you are comfortable with I also do want to say that what remains to be seen is how the government you know takes it forward with the neighborhood in the next five years because obviously the first visits are always to the neighborhood that has been the tradition in India always the problem is there after saying neighborhood first and doing that first visit whether the neighborhood continues to get the kind of attention and that remains to be seen we love the appointment of a technocrat like a suggestion curve it obviously sent out a very strong message on the priorities for this government but what would be the broader foreign policy vision for India would this be continued continuation of what was achieved in the first innings well you know foreign policy of course there is always continuity regardless of which country we are talking about because so much is determined by geography and the history of the relationship with neighbors so an element of continuity yes however you know Prime Minister Modi has surprised people before by first of all inviting the south leaders in the first swearing-in ceremony but also because I think he's bolder this time he has a huge electoral mandate behind him he's already of the view that India has a much more prominent place globally so my sense would be that they will try and be more high-profile in multilateral institutions he's heading straight into the g20 the Shanghai Cooperation Organization head was invited in I think they will certainly look for more prominence there so as me we are also talking at a time when when there are trade tensions between the United States and China the United States recently ended tariffs exemptions on five and a half billion dollars worth of Indian exports how do you think formula suggestion Korea's position to handle this this immediate challenge well you know the first thing I would say is that if you ask me what is the big difference between Modi 1.0 and Modi 2.0 I would say it is the world around us rather than what is actually changed within the government's own way of thinking I think what is clear is it's not just the us-china trade tensions but the way the United States now behaves in the way China and our behaves when it looks at when you look at the u.s. the tasks before External Affairs Minister joy Shankar I you know a whole range of issues but the first being the GSP trade status being withdrawn from India the second being the kind of push we are seeing when it comes to Indian trade practices data localization whether or not India goes ahead with allowing Huawei to bid for 5 GT come technology here the third really is oil and how we will deal with getting alternative sources of oil once it is clear that we have taken a stand on it on it certainly looks as if for the last two months we are not since May second we have not placed any new orders for Iranian oil is that going to be the policy we're still waiting for the External Affairs Minister to say that up straight but but that's going to be a big question the fourth question is really going to be about other sanctions because the US continues to old that not only sanctions against Iran but countries like Russia as well will hold will India backtrack on some of the on some of the defense purchases it is planned with Russia for example like the s400 triumph missile systems anti-missile systems which the u.s. is objected to so we're looking at a whole range of things and it's not just mr. Jaishankar will be meeting with the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later this month but after that Prime Minister Modi himself who will meet with US President Trump at the g20 in Osaka and I I think a lot will depend on how this goes how many concessions the u.s. expects how many we are willing to give because amongst the things mr. Jaishankar said is India has a tradition of Independence will we maintain that tradition and there's always the question of whether mr. Trump is going to accept that invitation to visit India in the next few months perhaps on Republic Day and what that will take so I think what we're going to see is a lot of negotiations in the next few weeks sure you know coming on this so on one hand has who has me was the most pointing out president Trump has spoken about partnering with India in the region on security aspects well he's also been pushing India to reduce its its trade deficit with the u.s. the US for example has lab duty it wants greater market access and so on do you anticipate Washington to get a lot more tougher with New Delhi in Modi second innings you know I think she's right I agree with so harshly that there will be a lot of negotiations I don't think we should waste any political capital on negotiate on the GSP you know these are 40 year old concessions if the Indian economy can't deal without with the absence of that but we really cannot have claims to positions on the hi table and you know dealing independently etc I think a more complex question is the oil imports from Iran but on the other hand you know independence means that you will look at your larger interest companies will look at their interest with the United States know private sector has been dealing with Iran for some time we have to look to the fact that more than eight million people work in the Gulf countries we have to consider the fact that the relationship with both Saudi Arabia and UAE has completely transformed including our expectations on investments from those countries in upstream petroleum areas we have to look to the fact that we have very deep by now defense links with Israel and you know it is also the case that Iran when it was not having problems was not the easiest country in the world to negotiate with we will have to go slow on on the port in Sabah and that will be a loss but I think we are in a world where people speak countries speak more frankly dealings are more in-your-face and I think that India's economy has grown big enough we need to leverage our market and we need to be fairly straightforward if you like realistic about pursuing our interests okay milla by you know I just want to pick this again you know the other the other the other aspect you know in this conversation is India's own challenges as far as the reviving its economy is concerned it requires significant investment that's both domestic and foreign investment and if you want significant foreign money that's not going to work if US is not going to play ball so ask me what would be the mode ejection could do was approach to normalize New Delhi's relationship with Washington look and at present I think what New Delhi has been trying to do is essentially manage the relationship at the u.s. as best as possible after all India's not alone the US has unleashed all manners of you know browbeating and tough talking with a number of countries including their closest allies so India is not in that sense alone now when it comes to its problems I think the idea is to negotiate and to talk as long as possible until one real you know with the idea that Washington will understand that India is not a partner that needs to be penalised in the manner that they are doing but I do feel somewhere there this this almost pandering to the United States on everything you know a year ago the Foreign Minister said we don't recognize unilateral sanctions a year later there's no question that we are not only recognizing them we are bowing down to them correct um you know the fact that we have not put retaliatory tariffs against the US so in the last one year although we've seen tariffs on steel on aluminum the GSP statist ambassador the there was quite right when she says GSP is something India can handle but why should it why should Indian exporters see their orders being sent to other countries what is India being penalized for and why can't these things we discussed before these ultimatums are given when you asked about strategy I think there are specific issues where India can give in particular I think the u.s. is sticking out for two of them one is on dairy products where India has a cultural problem with vegetarian cows versus non-vegetarian cows and the other is on medical equipment and the caps that we have put on them sure but I think that the basket of issues is not is not getting any smaller okay and as much time is spent away in a sense without these trade negotiations going on because I you know you would know that since March we've had really no real discussions on the trade package between us dad it is likely to grow and needs to be tackled immediately so I think these two meetings at the end of the month are going to be very important Neela last word with you you know the point that last thing is making we're also you know president Trump is also going to be election more so you're only only going to see the rhetoric getting even more sharper you want to respond to that Neelam you know I want to say the following we have had GSP privileges for 40 years if the economy the Indian economy can't pull itself together then it almost doesn't matter what anybody else does the other thing I would say yeah the second thing I want to say very important you know we have a lot of expectations on what we think the United States should be doing for us what are we doing I think it's not a question of pandering I think they ought to be much more forthcoming in strengthening defense and strategic relations with the United States we are buying weapon systems we expect them to sell them to us but we want to keep talking as if we were a non-aligned country at the same time you know the free open you know inclusive indo-pacific etc what does that mean it means the quad well let's then get on with it isn't it in our interest to go with some of these things I think you know the old way of doing international relations actually has changed it was a very European style of talking and dressing nicely and you know sipping wine etcetera that's all over it's much more hard knuckle now okay fair point so ask me I love the last word with you you've been tracking the ministry for a long time now early days but how do you think mr. Jaishankar has managed this transition from being foreign secretary to to foreign minister did he see it coming I don't think even he did and he admitted as much sneaking to the gathering at growths net the growth net summit yesterday where he essentially said I had no idea that I never dreamt that I'd be the minister being called in for the summit how how is he taken to the new role I think is it the floor running remember he's not just coming from being foreign secretary but for the past year he's been the president of Global Corporate Affairs for the Tata Sons so he brings that perspective as well off the corporate world and of the business world into it I think he's made it very clear that he has these priorities one as I said it's South Asia but we have to see whether that's lip service or it's actually going to go somewhere the second more importantly was the idea that the the External Affairs Ministry has to learn to work much closer with the economic ministries and he said I myself have spent more time with the Finance Minister and the Commerce Minister in the last week that I've spent in my own ministry I think that's the space we must watch so usnea Daphne Lam do many thanks Reed for joining us with your perspectives today if you have been thank you so much for watching

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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